Benjamin Netanyahu Affirms Rights of Reform and Conservative Jews

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to assuring the rights of all Jewish denominations in Israel.

He made the statement in a letter to the AJC, the organization reported Thursday.

The statement came in response to a letter sent to Netanyahu by AJC Jerusalem chair Matthew Bronfman and director Avital Leibovich following comments made by Minister for Religious Affairs David Azoulay, who said in a radio interview that Reform Jews cannot be considered Jews.

“I share your feelings regarding the hateful remarks made by the Minister for Religious Affairs,” Netanyahu wrote to AJC. “I have reminded him in no uncertain terms that, as a minister, he must represent all of Israel’s citizens.

“The government of Israel which I head remains committed to strengthening the unity of the Jewish people, and will unequivocally reject any attempt to divide us or to delegitimize any Jewish community – Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.”

The prime minister concluded: “I will continue to work to ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel, and I look forward to meeting with you to discuss concrete steps we can take together to do so.”

AJC Executive Director David Harris applauded the prime minister’s words.

“The unity of the Jewish people, and mutual respect of Jews among diverse religious streams, must be of paramount importance to the state of Israel,” said Harris. “We appreciate the prime minister’s stance, and we will continue to work closely with Israel’s leaders to strengthen religious pluralism.”

An AJC leadership delegation meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem earlier this month discussed strategies for deepening the ties between Israel and U.S. Jewry.

Azoulay, of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas party, said in July during an interview on Army Radio, “A Reform Jew, from the moment he stops following Jewish law, I cannot allow myself to say that he is a Jew. These are Jews that have lost their way, and we must ensure that every Jew returns to the fold of Judaism, and accept everyone with love and joy.”

Azoulay spoke with Army Radio two days after Israel’s Cabinet reversed regulations reforming conversion policy that were passed by the previous government.

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